By Virginia Traweek, Contributing Writer
The most contentious battle being fought in Congress right now is not about the deficit or the war against terror. Instead, it’s about whether or not lawmakers understand enough about how the Internet works to be able to regulate it. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) will be voted on this month and it’s clear that there are some major problems with the bill.
There is one shining example of why SOPA doesn’t make sense and it’s found in the strangest of places: a comedian turned Internet celebrity, Louis C.K. Last month, C.K. challenged traditional media outlets by selling his show on his website. But, more than that, he is challenging the very way in which we reward Internet content producers.
“Louis C.K. began selling the special, filmed at New York’s Beacon Theater, on December 10. He put up a simple website that directed customers to ‘buy the thing’ through eBay’s PayPal for $5. A footnote explained that the file has ‘no regional restrictions, no crap. You can download this file, play it as much as you like, burn it to a DVD, whatever.’”
If you had asked members of Congress what they thought would happen, you would have heard diatribes about how Internet scoundrels would immediately pirate the file, copying it from computer to computer until the whole world had their own, stolen copy of C.K.’s special. According to Congress, C.K. would have made exactly $5.
But history tells us a different story.
On December 21, less than 10 days after the special went on sale, Louis C.K. posted on his site: “So it’s been about 12 days since the thing started and yesterday we hit the crazy number. One million dollars. That’s a lot of money.”
That’s 200,000 downloads. Sure, I’m betting that there’s a copy of it up on BitTorrent right now. But 200,000 people decided that they’d rather own their own copy, free and clear. It makes one question the entire premise of SOPA. If you really believe that people will pirate anything that they can get their hands on, then how do you explain C.K.’s success?
To me, his discussion highlights an underlying ethic of the Internet: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Louis C.K. offered a good value. In return for your $5 (which is half the price of an average movie ticket), you get a great comedy special. Compare that to record labels which, up until about a few years ago, forced you to buy $20 albums containing 15 songs you didn’t really want to hear and one song that you did.
American culture has always been about protecting the underdog but SOPA won’t accomplish this. Louis C.K. has proven that there is a fair price for high-quality entertainment and the market has rewarded him.
Voice your opinion on SOPA, and contact your congressman.
Virginia is a contributing writer for GenWhyPress. She received her master’s degree in finance from Texas A&M University. She worked for several years as a senior housing consultant before beginning the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Science in Health Administration program. Virginia also runs a website, SeniorHousingMove.com